Sleep Hacking Part 1: How to Sleep Less & Do More
By: Dave Asprey
January 29, 2011
This article is the first in a series I’ll write about how to safely(ish) hack your sleep. I’m a biohacker, not a physician (although I’m married to one of those), and even my die-hard 80 year old antiaging friends who attend Smart Life Forum and look like they’re 60 will shake their heads at some of the techniques that let you sleep less. So, be warned before you read further: the rewards of sleep hacking are many, but the risks are higher than many other biohacking projects. And for God’s sake, don’t try to add massive muscle mass or lose tons of weight while cutting sleep. That’s a recipe for disaster.
I tend to post at 2 in the morning because I have a very demanding day job as a VP level technical evangelist for a large internet security company that just doesn’t allow time for recreational blogging. In Silicon Valley, you have to kick ass in your day job just to keep up with your colleagues. But as biohacker who is obsessed with getting more time and energy everyday, I still blog, and I use biohacking to get an unfair advantage in my career – more time, more energy, and less stress.
Sleep Hacking is Risky
Hacking sleep is one of the many ways to get more productivity out of your every day routine, but it comes with a lot of risk, as explained in this awesome chart. It’s wasteful to go without enough sleep (like almost everyone) while ignoring the simple things you can do to make that sleep count.
If you’re too tired to click that link, the bottom line is that lack of sleep can make you fat, substantially increase your risk of dying, give you cancer, or give you heart disease. It’s much safer to hack your fat, or muscle. I did that first (losing over 100lbs) and THEN I started sleep hacking. If you want to have more time, it is possible to preserve your health, mental function, and energy while trimming sleep.
It’s also possible to break your adrenal function, or your thyroid gland if you go for long periods without sleep. Your body can literally begin to die and cortisol levels spike dangerously high. On the bright side, you’ll feel so foggy and tired that you’ll sleep more and hopefully recover over a period of time. According to Dr. Wilson, the foremost adrenal function physician who twice presented at my antiaging/biohacker non-profit Smart Life Forum, it can sometimes take several years to recover full adrenal function if it’s compromised. It did for me. You can get a copy of Dr. Wilson’s write-up from our 2009 meeting here (and join the nonprofit mailing list for more cool stuff while you’e there).
A good biohacker counters the things that happen from bad sleep fortifying adrenal and thyroid function, and even controlling the blood sugar spikes that happen from lack of sleep. For the last 18 months, I’ve slept an average of five hours per night without gaining weight, and without a drop in mental performance (on most days anyway…). I have a 6 pack, and you can see visible veins in my abdomen, yet I did not exercise at all during this time. I’m adding 40 minutes a week back to my regimen soon, but that’s another topic. All of my antiaging blood parameters (19 vials of blood, every 6-12 months!) show I’m doing well with hacked sleep.
To get sleep data, I’ve tried to use my EEG – the one I’ve used on and off for 13 years to hack my brain – while sleeping, but the annoying electrodes come off, make a mess, and the wires get tangled. It sucks, and even for a biohacker like me, the inconvenience isn’t worth the questionable data.
Sleep Hacking Part 2
As I mentioned, this is a sleep hacking series, a series for you to understand your sleep and hack it! Sleep hacking is no joke and should be treated seriously because messing with sleep can be dangerous, but I want to help people hack their sleep because it is one of the most important things you can do for your health and longevity, and this series does just that: helps you hack your sleep as safely as possible.
Insomnia is pervasive in todays society, many have trouble falling asleep and many more have trouble staying asleep. This is an extremely expensive problem and one that is worth hacking. In part two I break down the math for you to understand how its costing you precious years of your life. You will learn to get sleepy faster, my favorite pre bed rituals, stuff that you should be avoiding and the best habits to get into for more efficient, quality sleep (hint: its actually less hours of sleep than you may think).
So I’m incredibly stoked that Tim Ferriss is sending me a Zeo Personal Sleep Coach as a way to thank me for buying 30 copies of The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman, an excellent biohacking guide that’s sure to help countless people be better at home and at work. I will send a free hardback copy of Tim’s book to the first two people who post thoughtful comments on this blog!
The Zeo was a great product, but it is no longer available 🙁
The Sleep Cycle App
I’ve now opted in for the sleep cycle app, an amazing app that actually tracks you while you’re sleeping. I use sleep cycle every night and its how I know if I got a good sleep or if I was tossing and turning all night, it tells me what time I fell into a deep sleep and how long I maintained that deep sleep. It has an alarm clock that does not jolt you out of bed by scaring you with some really loud and obnoxious noise and its super easy to use.
Here’s to a good night’s sleep… in 2 hours if I can pull it off!